Young people get drunk and have sex. There. We've said it. The question is, why are they still unaware of the risks?
In research released on Tuesday as part of a wider project for YouthNet's online guide to life, TheSite.org, we looked at the attitudes of 16 to 25-year-olds towards sex and alcohol. It revealed a worrying lack of concern about the dangers of STIs, with over half agreeing that it's OK not to use a condom providing the girl takes the pill and 1 in 3 respondents who had unprotected sex contracting an infection as a result.
62% of respondents who had unprotected sex admitted that they didn't go for an STI test afterwards and only 10% of respondents who took emergency contraception after unprotected sex recognised the need to look for advice, which could help prevent them being in a similar situation again.
From our work in the sector, we know that there is great work happening both online and on the ground in supporting young people around sex and alcohol and there is a wealth of information out there about sexual health, but it was clear from our respondents that the prevention message just isn't getting through.
To discuss this, we brought together representatives from government, health, charities and business. Guest speakers included Alison Hadley from the Department for Education, Jermaine Julie, Alcohol and Sexual Health worker from Brook London and Dr Ranj Singh, a practitioner and campaigner for the improvement of young people's health care information. Speaking about the research, Dr Ranj said, "It's alarming to see such relaxed attitudes towards condom use amongst young people, but more importantly indicates that there's a significant lack of awareness of the risks associated with contracting STI's."
"Figures for the number of young people infected with STI's remain very high and this problem is not going away, so it's absolutely essential that we look at ways of ensuring young people are clear about the facts."
Representatives from the Department for Education, Department of Health and Shaun Bailey, Special Advisor to the prime minister on Youth issues from the Cabinet office attended the discussions at YouthNet yesterday, which meant that we benefitted from valuable insight from both government and organisations working with young people, each of whom face different challenges in their roles around these issues.
There was a collective acknowledgement across all the sectors for the need to look at how we're communicating sexual health messages in a way that's going to appeal to young people, by showing how to have safe sex as well as the consequences when it isn't. Young people search for information about sex, not sexual health. We need to make sure that when they do, they find trusted information that covers both, presented in a tone and style for them.
There were discussions about the importance of appropriate SRE education in schools, the greater role for government in helping young people understand the messages about the risks of STI's and the need for organisations to work together more, as well as the role of peer-to-peer advice. This is particularly significant given that our research showed the majority of respondents turned to their friends when they needed advice around sex and drinking.
But of course, the challenge is not just about delivering information, it's where and how it reaches young people. The role of online, both in terms of ease of access and removing the barriers of embarrassment and unease that can stop young people getting support is vital.
For us, this isn't just about evaluating our own services, like our dedicated Morning After section, but working together with relevant organisations to tackle these issues. By continuously evolving the advice and support available, and investigating how best to meet the needs of young people through new technology, we can ensure more young people have the right information wherever and whenever they need it, helping them with the confidence to make informed decisions about their lifestyles.
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